What to Do When You Don’t Feel Like the Strongest Writer in the Room
On my second day as a writer at Wix, I was given a practice writing assignment. There was no pressure and I should have been excited to do my first real writing in this job. But I sat at my new desk, in front of my new computer, paralyzed by fear.
What if my boss looked at my writing and realized she’d made a mistake in hiring me? What if I couldn’t nail the Wix voice on my first try? How did my boss know that I even had any writing abilities?
How did I know that I had any writing abilities?
Although I’ve been writing all my life, this was my first job with “writer” in the title. In past jobs, I was the go-to person for anything related to writing – newsletters, annual reports, marketing materials and more. I felt good about my writing skills because I was the best writer in the office. But at Wix, I was suddenly a writer in a room full of writers. Clearly, I didn’t belong and now the truth was going to come out.
But I had to do it. Although I was riddled with self-doubt (and crafting a text to my boyfriend with a lot of sad face emojis), I couldn’t ditch the assignment. I forced myself to start typing. As I wrote, I felt my confidence grow; this was familiar, comfortable. When I finished, I read back over what I had written – and it didn’t suck. I had physical proof that I was, in fact, a good writer who deserved to be at Wix.
Of course, I still doubt myself at times and writing this blog post was no exception. I came up with the idea on that second day but didn’t bring it to our editor for another 6 weeks. I thought, if my boss sees this article, she’s going to know how I feel. And then I’ll really be found out to be a fraud!
Surrounded by talented writers, it can be easy to doubt yourself and your skills. When you don’t feel like the strongest writer in the room, it can be debilitating. So here are some insights into overcoming the doubt.
01. “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” – Robert Hughes
Having doubts about yourself or your abilities doesn’t mean you lack talent. In fact, many of the most talented athletes and actors would say otherwise. When you’re overcome with the feeling that you’re a fraud who can be exposed at any minute, it’s known as “imposter syndrome.” It’s a real thing that affects nearly everyone at some point. It would actually be more worrisome if you never had a moment of self-doubt.
Why? Because doubting yourself means you have room to grow. If you were the world’s best writer, you wouldn’t hesitate to write that blog article. But you also would never be able to get any better. With nowhere to go and nothing to learn, life would be boring – and you’d probably accomplish far less without that desire to keep improving.
02. Remind yourself that you’re not alone
When you don’t feel like the best writer, you’re comparing yourself to the writers around you and assuming they have unwavering confidence. But here’s a secret: those writers are probably making the same assumptions about you. Sometimes, we just need a reminder of this. Sit down with a fellow writer you admire and talk to them. Not about grammar or the text you’re working on, but about your fears and how you’ve been feeling. Ask them if they’ve ever felt the same way. Chances are, they have.
Now that I’ve been here for a while, I know I’m not the only one with questions–and doubt. (Did you read about our Accidental UX Writer?) I was nervous even mentioning this article idea to our editor, so I showed the outline to a coworker first. Her immediate response was, “I love it. I always feel that way.” That validation was all I needed to send an email to our editor…and here we are.
03. Rewrite the narrative
One of the most powerful phrases I’ve learned is: “The story I’m telling myself…” It comes from Brené Brown, a vulnerability and shame researcher with one of the top 5 most-watched TED Talks. This phrase can change the way we talk to ourselves and others.
Unfortunately, I didn’t use this for the practice assignment, but I wish I had. Start by writing down all the things you’re telling yourself, no matter how silly they sound out loud. This is what mine would have looked like, had I done it at the time:
The story I’m telling myself is that I’m not a good enough writer and that my boss will think she made a mistake in hiring me. I’m scared that I will fail and let people down. I am asking myself why I even applied for a job that requires me to be so vulnerable.
Being a writer is an important part of my identity. What if I do this assignment and it becomes clear that I’m actually not a writer? I’d be better off just not writing instead.
Then, make a list of what you actually know to be true – facts only. Mine could have been:
I was hired for a reason, out of a large pool of applications and after a long series of interviews. Wix only hires people they think are talented, therefore I must have at least some level of talent.
It’s my second day. No one expects me to know everything.
I’ve been successful on similar assignments in past jobs, so this shouldn’t be any different.
There are no stakes for this assignment. It’s just practice.
Failure is embraced here at Wix. So even if I fail, it’s okay.
Doing this shows me what I’m making up in my head (and why I’m telling myself these things) and lets me compare it to the facts. This allows me to rewrite the narrative and see how misguided some of my fears are. I can remind myself of these facts again and again if needed.
04. Learn everything you can
When imposter syndrome inevitably rears its ugly head, I want to have all the weapons I can in my back pocket. For me, that means working on improving my writing skills as much as possible. Remember how doubt means you have room to grow? Well, now’s the time to grow.
In the simplest of terms, learn everything. If your biggest moments of doubt are about a certain writing style, seek out opportunities to practice that. Challenge yourself to take on assignments that scare you. It may sound counter-intuitive, but studies show that exposure is the best way to overcome anxiety.
Find a website or book full of writing exercises and set a goal of doing one every day. Sometimes I just take out my big book of writing prompts, flip to a random page and start scribbling. It reminds me why I love writing and it makes me feel confident, even if the style is completely different from my current work at Wix. The more secure I feel about my writing skills, the more I can talk myself down when the fear hits.
05. Just start writing
At the end of the day, there’s really only one thing you have to do: just start writing. This is the best advice any writer can follow, regardless of the challenge they’re facing. Writer’s block? Just start writing. Stressed about a deadline? Just start writing.
Feeling insecure in your writing abilities? Just start writing.
There are no magic tricks here or words of inspiration that haven’t been said before. All I can say is take a deep breath and dive in.
That’s what I had to do on my fourth day at Wix, when I had to do a real version of that writing assignment. It’s what I did on my sixth day, when I sat in a meeting for a big internal project. And again on day 10 and day 60. It’s likely I’ll have to do it on day 100 and day 365, too. I’ll never be without moments of doubt and neither will you. But with strategies to defeat them, those moments won’t keep me – or you – from being a great writer.
Jenni Nadler, UX Writer at Wix